Botswana’s Okavango Delta a ‘world heritage site’
(GIN) — The Okavango Delta — Africa’s last-remaining wetland wilderness — has been listed as the 1,000th World Heritage site by UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural body.
The vast “Okavango wilderness” will be counted alongside such majestic formations as the Galapagos, Amazon, Arctic and Great Barrier Reef. It contains a number of endangered species and is unusual in that it is inland and does not flow into a sea.
Located in northwest of this southern African country, the Delta is formed by the Okavango River which rises in the highlands of Angola to the north and flows southeast into the Kalahari. It is home to some of the world’s most endangered species of large mammal, such as the cheetah, white rhinoceros, black rhinoceros, African wild dog and lion.
It covers over 15,000 kilometers with papyrus swamps, shallow reed-beds and floodplains, dotted with islands and laced with a network of channels.
The selection of Okavango as a natural site by the World Heritage Committee, was announced June 23 in Doha (Qatar) under the chair of Sheikha Al Mayassa Bint Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani.
Botswana’s Environment, Wildlife and Tourism minister Tshekedi Khama, who led a delegation to Doha, said his country would protect the heritage site and make sure communities benefited from it.
“The government of Botswana, in partnership with civil society organizations, has developed a project proposal to implement the community development aspect of the plan and has been supported by the Diamond Trust (an initiative of diamond miners De Beers and Debswana ‘to support community-based projects’) — to the tune of $113,400,” Khama said.
Okavango is Botswana’s second site to make the World Heritage sites list after the Tsodilo Hills, home to over 4,500 paintings preserved in an area of only 10 square kilometers of the Kalahari Desert. The archaeological record of the area gives a chronological account of human activities and environmental changes over at least 100,000 years.
Prior to its selection, the site was visited by the International Union for Conservation and Nature. Concerns were raised some development activities there were incompatible with the listing of a site, including uncontrolled and unmonitored tourism ventures leading to overcrowding as well as mining within the site’s core and buffer zones.
In regard to tourism development, the Botswana nomination dossier proposes a maximum of 1,300 or 700 beds in the core area, and a maximum 24 beds per lodge. As for mining development, the listing does away with any prospecting or mining activities in the entire listed site.
Other sites, named with Okavango were in France, Israel, Italy, Turkey and the U.S., which received the protective status for the “Monumental earthworks of Poverty Point.” Located in the Lower Mississippi Valley, it was created and used for homes and ceremonial purposes by a society of hunter fisher-gatherers between 3,700 and 3,100 B.C.
Research has not clarified yet whether the complex had a steady residential function or was a campground occupied temporarily during ceremonies of trading fairs. It is a remarkable achievement in earthen construction in North America not surpassed for at least 2,000 years.